A long distance relationship… What kind of relationship is that?
“Ask a Danish man who is married to a Filipina “I said when I was told about my brother who was leaving his wife and 2 children at home, in search for greener pastures in Spain. Two months later my sister-in-law found out that she was pregnant with twins!Most westerners can not understand why Filipinos leave their families to work abroad.
I went home and looked back at my own Filipino family’s saga on how we became a truly global Filipino family.
In a traditional Filipino family, the father is considered the head and the provider of the family and he is often referred to as the “ Haligi ng Tahanan”, The Pillar of the Home.While the mother takes the responsibility of taking care of the children and managing the home, she is called the“Ilaw ng Tahanan” or the light of the home. Children see their mother as soft and calm, while they regard their father as strong and the eminent figure in the family.
But in our case our mother is the one who has the strong character; she is not only a mother to us but she also does some of the things that my father lacks like handy man, and sometimes also making ends meet when my father’s earnings can’t support their 5 children.
My father tends our fishponds but sometimes typhoons, floods, and other calamities that always pass through our province makes it a very unstable source of income.He also used to be a Biyahero a merchant so we had market stalls in 3 towns in Pangasinan (a Northern Province in Luzon island, ed.) but it was still not enough to provide good education for us kids which was their dream since they had only minimal education themselves.
In 1981 our lives changed when my mother left us to join her siblings here in Denmark to find work. I still can remember that time, I cried for several hours because I cannot imagine what our life will be without her. In a family, the mother is the light for all the pains and comforts. She is the light for all the mistakes and corrections. She is the light for all the happiness and sorrows. Without that light, the house can still stand but, there will be darkness. And with the darkness, there will be constant searching for direction and survival.
I was the eldest of the five children and I was 11 at the time she left us. Her responsibilities fel on my shoulder: I washed our clothes, cooked our food, and cleaned the house. I also became the surrogate mother of my youngest sister who was only 2 years old at that time. My brothers were 6 and 8 years old and my other sister was 9. There was a constant feeling of sadness and deep longing for us to be with our mother. Birthdays, Christmas, graduations and all the special events without our mother will forever be etched in our hearts. Gifts we received like new toys or new clothes were a momentary plaster to the emotional sores that made us numb with longing for family togetherness.
I can’t remember how I felt when I saw my mother for the first time in 4 years but what I can vividly remember was my youngest sister reaction at that time. She could not recognize my mother, it took her a month to get to used to the idea that we have indeed a mother.The site of the postman was a relief during that time. I can’t describe the excitement whenever we received greeting cards or letters from our mother. That was during the pre-internet age and there were no telephone lines in our place. Whenever we missed her we would just read her letters to reassure ourselves that she still with us but just thousands of miles away.
If it was difficult for us kids, it was even more so for our father who had to assume the mother and father roles at the same time especially when we reached puberty. My father was very strict with us: no parties, no gimmicks and no discos.I almost did not attend the Junior Senior Prom (Dance Ball).There was a lot of resentment and confusion for a teenager due to hormonal changes to our bodies that were happening, but somehow we managed through the help of my one and only female cousin on my mother side. Most of my aunts and uncles were also abroad at that time so mostly we had to manage ourselves.
Later, our father joined my mother 8 years after my mother because I went to college and soon another sibling will follow. After a few months my sister followed him, leaving my 2 brothers and youngest sister under the care of my grandmother.I was in college and lived in Manila at that the time until my other siblings joined me when they went to college. My parents went home every 3 years after that.
Living without our parents was difficult but it made us closer to each other, and stronger to face life’s challenges.We’ve been through a lot of problems like studying, jobs and relationship problems.We even experienced that our apartment burned down not only once but twice with most of our priced possessions like pictures from childhood and most of the material things I gained while working, burned into ashes.We were lucky to receive help from other people like my employer at that time, who gave us financial help when we needed it most. But those experiences taught us that the family is more important thing than anything else in one’s life. Material things can vanish any time.
My parents were present during our graduation except my youngest sister’s graduation.When we entered the Philippines Convention Center where our graduation was, one can clearly see the tears in their eyes and the pride to see us in our togas, when we went up the stage to receive our diplomas.
I got a degree in Civil Engineering and is now pursuing another degree in Constructing Architect or Architectural Technology here in Denmark.One brother is dentist and one is a Electronics and Communication Engineer.My youngest sister finished Chemical Engineering, and another sister finished International Relations studies.
It was the dream of my parent for us to finish our education so we will have a better chance to have a good future.
But there’s an anti climax to our story. After several years of working in the Philippines, we still could not see a better future for all of us, we followed our parents footsteps and are now joining the millions of global Filipinos trying to find a better future, which our own country unfortunately cannot provide us.
My family are composed of global migrants of 2 generations both on my father and mother’s side, families with one or both parents working abroad and children living here in Denmark, my parents are in Spain, my sister and myself here in Denmark. Others cousins and relatives are in the USA and one is a seaman. Some cousins also works in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East. We vowed once not to follow our parent’s footsteps because we don’t want our children to undergo what we have been through. Although we can alway join our parents in Spain but maybe it’s our destiny to find our happiness here in Denmark and we are grateful to our Aunt Elvira and her family for inviting us here where we met our husband and lives a better life than living in the Philippines. Spain is much closer and cheaper and we’re hoping to to spend our first Christmas together this year with our complete family, it will be the first since 1981.
Did my parents dream turn into nothing because we are working and living abroad after earning our academic degrees in the Philippines?No I don’t think so, It is not our fault that the economy of the Philippines is in disarray and that it can not keep its highly educated citizens home.But we will always be thankful to the sacrifices of our parents because having education is the best thing they can give us because it will never vanish and someday it will help us to find the right jobs here in Europe.
Even in the absence of the Light of the Home, we still functioned as a family because of the sacrifice my parents did just for the sake of a better future for their children. They became our guiding light to stay away from all kinds of temptations and we became responsible adults. It’s the love for the family that drives many Filipinos to leave and work abroad.
Our First Family Picture taken in 2001
< ![endif]–><!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–>
This is our first and only family picture in 2001 meaning that finally we are complete as family plus the my sister in law and my niece.
Note: This article was first published in ABAKADA,”Ang Balitang Kababaihan sa Denmark”, (The Filipina news in Denmark) in the Summer 2008 issue which theme is about Filipino Women’s on global migration. You can read other articles in that issue at www.babaylan.dk.
I posted this article because we will joining my parents in Spain are for the first time in 27 years we will spend the Christmas together as a family. It will be the realization of our dream and prayers for the past 27 years to be together during christmas but now that that we have our own families it will be more exciting and memorable for all of us.
That is for me the meaning of christmas to be with your family like the family in Bethlehem Our Lord Jesus together with His Parents and that will be the greatest gift that we will never forget.
How about you are you going to spend your christmas with your family?